On the morning of our day at the Festival of Traditional Culture we cruisers were briefed on our schedule and the events. We were warned (as if we needed it) that we’d be asked to pose for “selfies” all day, and assured that escorts would always be close by and if we needed a break or protection we need only give a high sign and we’d be rescued. I don’t think any of us mind posing for photos at all, but our hosts were afraid we’d be mobbed to the extent that it would inhibit our ability to enjoy the festival.
The festival celebrates four specific aspects of traditional Indonesian culture. One event is called “natural immunization” and involves anointing babies with herbs and oils. Unfortunately we couldn’t get anywhere near the area where this was happening so we don’t have any photos.
Under a huge tent a hundred women were weaving the traditional sarongs we’d seen on our road trip to the weaving village.
It was here that we noticed a number of official photographers and television crews following us tourists. One of the cameramen approached me and asked if I would try the weaving. “Sure!” I said, and I handed my stuff to Jack and submitted to the women who strapped me into the loom and tried to teach me the pattern. I was hopeless at it. I have great respect for how they can keep the sequence of moves straight in their heads. The sarongs are beautiful, and they were also for sale. Jack and I chose one we could use as a day cover for our bed.
The third major event is the ritual circumcision of young boys. We’d been told that the procedure had been done medically a few weeks ago, but on the day of the festival they would undergo “another little nick” (ouch!) during the ceremony.
We didn’t see the actual Ceremony of the Nicking, but we did take this photo of the mohels.
On the female side, girls are “secluded” on the occasion of their first menstrual period, and the coming out ceremony is a celebration of their womanhood. The girls are dressed in gorgeous costumes, and it seems that all of them want to take selfies with the cruisers. Jack was more than happy to comply when it seemed that older men are particularly good catches for photos.
By this time we were starving, and we were squired from place to place by our handlers through the crowds toward where we would eat lunch. We haven’t been in this intense a press of humanity since the San Sebastián festival in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Lunch was a ritual affair called “Eating Together” we will come to know well during our time in Indonesia. It involves sitting opposite a woman behind a large decorative dome. We tried to make ourselves comfortable while we sat through at least an hour of speeches by all the dignitaries. The TV crews roamed the crowd and did interviews of some of us for the evening news. Again I was chosen — I don’t know why; I’m terribly self conscious on camera — but I muddled through.
At one precise moment the covers are lifted revealing a variety of dishes we are to share with each other and the hosts. Each platter is slightly different because the women had actually made the foods themselves, and while they explained that most of the dishes are traditional, there are variations from each region, village or family. This isn’t banquet food, folks. It’s good old home cooking, although we don’t really have a handle on what most of it is. We appreciated the guidance of the few English speakers near us.
It was brutally hot, and while we were at least sheltered from the sun, the close quarters contributed to the stifling temperature. I don’t know how the women, dressed in layers and layers of heavily embellished clothing and full makeup, manage to stay so cool looking. I was dripping.
After lunch we cruisers were guided into the municipal building to a blissfully air conditioned room where we could sit in real chairs, cool off, and relax our facial muscles from the constant selfie posing. After a while our hosts came in with piles of sarongs and we were all dressed for success in traditional fashion.
Susan and I are the late August birthdays and our hosts and fellow cruisers serenaded us with a couple dozen rounds of “Happy Birthday to you!”
Finally it was time for the Big Event, the dancing by thousands of men and women, boys and girls, from all over Buton. We had VIP seats overlooking the field, with tables of snacks and delicacies provided for us. The sun was brutal but the dancing was fun. Again, this is a performance style we will come to know well. The Indonesians feel that if ten dancers are good, then a thousand doing the same thing will be so much better. Only in Bali did we see riveting performances by a single dancer.
After the performance we ran the gauntlet of selfie takers and made our way to the shelter of the buses to reclaim a little personal space on the ride back to the anchorage. It was an exhausting day, full of intense color and happy smiles all around. We thank Pasarwajo for hosting us and treating us as honored guests.